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5 Big Tips for Narrating non fiction audiobooks - Be A Pro

Jul 23, 2020
As all of us ‘make our way’ on our VO Journey, sooner or later we come across the potential of recording audiobooks… I for one recorded many Audiobooks on ACX at the start of my voiceover career and it gave me a great grounding for many other projects I’ve been involved in over the years…
Audiobooks are great for lots of reasons but let’s consider a few first up,
  • There’s lots of work available at any given time which is great practice for the new and upcoming VO talent.
  • It’s a great way to get some income rolling in right off the bat…
  • Unlike the average voiceover project which tends to be a ‘one-off’ job, you have the added bonus of being able to pick up royalty payments on a book that sells well! Imagine if you were to score, say, the next Harry Potter series?

Note: Ensure you read the book you’re narrating before you start to record… or at least skim through to the end, as there’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a story and realizing you’ve missed the point of the story or you didn’t understand a major component of the characters you are portraying, or worse, the main character has a British accent and you have been using an American one.  

Ok, down to the serious stuff, Here’s our Big 5...

1. Narrate like a TED Talk 

First, if you haven’t already, watch a Ted Talk or two... or three and you’ll notice a constantly recurring theme…
People who do Ted Talks whether they be Doctors, Lawyers, or Teachers all have one thing in common…

Know what it is?

They are natural storytellers… They have confidence in what they are saying. 
"The most powerful person in the world is a storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda for the entire generation to come." Steve Jobs
Emulate their style as you develop your own… Narrators are storytellers so, become comfortable with your story-telling ability. 

2. Use different voice styles

As you develop your narration voice, here are some fairly rigid rules to follow that will make the whole narration process a whole lot easier! You’ll develop different ‘tones’ as you depict a softer female character or a gruff male character and there are some universal standards to consider below:
A. A non-excited voice for titles, sub-titles, etc. 
As titles are… ‘titles’ they should be ‘read’ without emotion, almost as if you are ‘stepping away’ from the story and then back into it again as you narrate the next paragraph. Keep that in mind as you lay down your titles and subtitles...
B. Use an authoritative voice to make points
What we are talking about here is a subtle change in tone to emphasize a point or an area of particular importance to your listener, not the sort of voice your Dad used when you were late home or you hadn’t cleaned your room for a semester! 
C. Use a conversational voice to teach
There’s a huge difference between sounding like your a know-it-all who advises with a sarcastic tone, and a friendly conversational but educational voice…
This is also subtlety and a tone that can take some work to master…
Your conversational tone should be your default tone these days, and one to continue to hone and develop as most audiences don’t want to be told, they want to ‘engage’ as a listener so, practice your conversational tone.

3. Record for 2 hours max at one time. Burnout is real.

Audiobooks can be relentless, unlike other recording projects, due to the fact they’ll probably be the longest projects you’ll ever deal with.
Consider that with audiobook work, 30,000 words in one project, spread out over a couple of weeks is not uncommon, so, it’s important to pace yourself and have breaks to maintain your tone and stay hydrated. Stick to 2-hour sessions so you can ‘rest and recuperate’ in order to bring your A-game all the way through the Audiobook.

4. Plan your recording times.

Tired? Straight home from a frustrating day at work? Just had an argument with someone? Recording in the morning, then recording in the afternoon? 
These are all factors that will affect your recording session. Did you know that if you want to record a ‘deep sound you do it in the morning or super late at night? 
Your voice is generally deeper in the morning, right? So, if you’re trying to depict a softer female character in your story, you wouldn’t start that part of the audiobook in the morning… Of course, when you’re tired, frustrated, angry… you won’t be at your best, So, breathe, plan your time, bring your winning mindset, and get it done! 

5. Know your audience

Always saving the most important point for last... if you don’t know your audience, how are you going to engage them?
Who are you narrating to?
7-10-year-olds? Teenage females, that like pony Club? Engineers? Parents?
Know your audience by reading your audiobook before you attempt to narrate it, talk to your author and ask how he/she wants to engage the listener.
All the very best of luck with your evolving audiobook narration in your VO journey, and If I can assist further with your audiobook narration, Voice Over Coaching
To your ongoing voiceover success,
Anthony Pica